I remember them. We called them evening police men. They were uniformed volunteer civil servants in the Northern Regional government who took interest in neighbourhood policing under the supervision of the Nigeria Police Force but directly controlled by the special constabulary in the then regional capital, Kaduna. They worked mostly in the evenings after their regular office work. Their proper title was special constable, not evening police. Evening police was the nickname.
The colonial authorities set up the special constabulary as a citizens’ security volunteer force to assist the Nigeria police. Kaduna capital territory was not a native authority and therefore did not have NA police. The special constables more or less fulfilled the role of the NA police in the circumstances.
Some of my friends were special constables. They took special pride in their part-time work as law men. From their stories of how they caught petty thieves, it was clear to me then as it is now that they helped to make the work of the Nigeria police somewhat easier. They were better at arresting, or as they called it, catching petty thieves in the act of committing crimes such as pilfering and burglary than the regular police. The people felt safer because you saw them at all the neighbourhoods in the town. The rather amusing sight of a special constable in hot pursuit of a petty thief was not uncommon in Kaduna metropolis. Some people often joined in the pursuit in solidarity with the special constables.
When the generals came, they said the special constabulary should cease to exist with immediate effect. It ceased to exist. The NA police ceased to exist too on the basis of a similar order. The generals, claiming, it would seem, to be better at security matters than the civilian leaders they ousted from power, then created one national police force to take on the tough task, as we saw it then and see it still, of policing the vast Nigerian territory and its huge population. Perhaps, they were convinced, as Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi was, that the people needed one security force, not a multiplicity of security forces.
I think they were wrong. The wisdom of their calculation now looks more foolish than wise. The Nigeria Police Force with some 370,000 men and women in uniform, is unable to make us safe or feel safe. Not because they are incompetent or corrupt but because they are overwhelmed by the cocktail of security challenges none of us, leaders and the led alike, could have anticipated even a decade ago.
It seems we are about to walk backwards. The Executive Council of the Federation now wants to bring the special constables back as part-time police. Back and forth is our national anthem. What was wrong yesterday usually makes the grade as what is right today. I am always fascinated by a re-think and welcome it. Perhaps we are about to move from a single civil security outfit to a multiplicity of same. We do not yet know the details of the new part-time policing outfit. We must wait for those details to see if it is what we need now to make us safe by ending the bloody reign of bandits and kidnappers.
It seems to me, however, that in opting for part-time police, the Buhari government feels it can continue to run away from the inevitable – the return of the NA police as state police. Security is essentially a local matter. No centralised policing system works well enough to justify itself. I know of no nation that puts its internal security in the hands of a single police force and then goes to bed with its two eyes open. Our ambition to be an exception has taken us nowhere but down on the scale of our national security.
We have heard enough rubbish about our country not being ripe for state police. I do not know how the degree of our ripeness is assessed by those who believe there is sense in denigrating our maturity and sense of responsibility as a nation. The argument, repeated to a point of disgust, that state police would be misused flies in the face of what we all know – the Nigeria Police Force too was and is misused. State governors more or less fund the police formations in their various states. You cannot prevent the man who pays the piper from dictating the tune that suits him.
I thought that finding ourselves in the current insecurity sorry pass, we would have the courage and the will to begin without further delay a radical shake-up and the re-evaluation of our internal security system. We must begin by admitting that our single national police force, woefully under-staffed, under-funded and under-equipped as it is, has not served our national interests well enough for the government to stubbornly hold on to whatever gave rise to its creation in the first place. The times have changed; the circumstances have changed; crimes and criminals have changed. The government must change its position too to respond to these changes by accepting best global practices in our policing system. It is the only way to go. A centralised policing system has no merits that I can place my fingers on.
In creating part-time police, the federal government is obviously opting for the inadvisable. I do not see how it can do better by taking on the additional responsibility of a new security outfit that, from the look of things, it cannot adequately staff or fund or equip. Let the Buhari administration not add to our frustration and misery by raising a new security outfit that can do no more than complicate the already complicated security challenges we face – and make us feel even less safe. It is a cop out because it begs the question.
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